I tell you what, the web of blogs, artists and festivals that constitute the pagan music scene is difficult to navigate. I’ve done my best to pull a few interesting things out! Listen to me incorrectly using the word ‘paradigmatic’ here:
Last time we looked at paganism, I defined it roughly as an umbrella term for the pre-Christian religious traditions of Europe, which have been reconstructed and revivified by certain groups and subcultures in the last 50 years or so. Pagan music tends to fall into two main genres: folk and heavy rock (bizarrely). But with the more general resurgence of interest in folk music going on recently, often incorporating electronic influences, we’ve seen pagan bands doing the same. In a sense, just as they unearth ancient religious practices and make them fit in with a modern lifestyle and worldview, they are unearthing the medieval musical instruments and reworking them in light of contemporary trends.
Faun is one such band. Formed in 2002 in Munich, they explicitly call themselves ‘pagan folk.’ They sing in Latin, Greek, Old German and Scandinavian languages, and they play harps, bagpipes, flutes and so on – but they mix these with samples, beats and synthesisers. According to their website, they “combine medieval and ancient instruments with modern influences to create an enchanting and powerful atmosphere.” Those last two adjectives speak to the open religiousness of their music. They draw on pagan mythologies and religious concepts in their lyrics and try to channel them in their music. Their name – Faun – obviously refers to the very widespread figure in European mythology of the horned, goat-legged man.
Now, when we talk about religious music, there are two ways to look at things. Firstly, there are religious people making religious music – like Faun. But we can also look at the music that religious people listen to and draw meaning from – whether or not the artists themselves share their beliefs. I’ve spoken before on the rich fluidity and openness that characterises pagan approaches to spirituality, making them particularly OK with adopting and drawing on widely divergent and surprising influences. It is in this vein that the blogger at The Wild Hunt suggested that pagans should look beyond their tightly-bound subculture for inspiration. They wrote, “the vibrant sacred music of today, the creative force that speak to our Pagan soul,” can be found among artists that aren’t openly pagan. One example is Delerium, which is listed in a number of lists of ‘pagan’ music despite their not seeming to be explicitly pagan. They are clearly interested in the spiritual, however, with songs and albums called Incantation, Karma, and Spiritual Archives. Their music is hard to pin down, ranging somewhere between “dark ethereal ambient trance” and “electronic pop.” I played the song ‘Silence,’ which features Sarah McLachlan, just because you might recognise the main lyric which pops up halfway through!
I’ve been dying to do next week’s topic: atheist choral music. Yup.